Skills and Knowledge
Racing Sim Setup Guide
Simulator racing has been gaining popularity over the last few years as both an affordable entry point into motorsports as well as a tool to hone one’s driving ability. With a wide range of tracks, cars, and competition to choose from, it’s easy to see why sim racing is becoming more popular for both novices and professionals alike.
If you are seeking an affordable way to experience motorsports or aiming to improve your racing skills on a new track, we highly recommend sim racing. Prominent F1 drivers such as Max Verstappen and Lando Norris actively engage in sim racing, even taking part in online competitions. This means you might even encounter them on the virtual track.
Two things that newcomers to sim racing may find intimidating:
- Building a Sim Rig
It can cost a few hundred dollars to set up a barebones rig to a few thousand dollars or more for a professional-grade rig. Below, we will cover the best bang-for-the-buck setups for sim racers of all levels.
With a wide range of components and options available, it can be overwhelming to select the perfect sim rig setup for your needs. Which rig should you choose? What are the differences between direct drive and belt-driven wheels?
In this article, we will help understand the different components needed for a sim racing rig and recommend top setups for HPDE and road racing motorsports.
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Before diving into the different sim racing components, it is important to determine which gaming platform you will use: Console or PC.
The main gaming consoles are the Xbox Series X and the Playstation 5, with both offering low setup costs and solid games like Gran Turismo for the Playstation and Forza for the Xbox. F1 23 and Assetto Corsa Competizione are available for both consoles.
Gaming consoles offer an easy all-in-one package so buyers don’t need to worry about choosing graphics cards or different computer parts. They also cost less than most PCs. However, the downside is lack of immersion, as the most realistic simulation games and hardware are only available for PC.
PC sim racing is considered the gold standard and is the preferred choice for most sim racers. The PC platform offers a wide range of customization and hardware options to suit any budget.
With a PC, you have access to top sim racing games such as Assetto Corsa, iRacing, and rFactor. You also have the flexibility to create as immersive and realistic of a racing experience as your budget allows. However, a downside is the complexity involved in navigating the various choices and ensuring compatibility between the PC and hardware components.
Steering Wheel Bases
Now that you have determined the gaming platform for your rig, it's time to find the appropriate steering wheel setup. This component is the heart of your rig and arguably the most crucial part of the sim racing experience. Just like in a real car, the primary means of controlling and receiving feedback from your vehicle will be through the wheel.
Keep in mind that wheel base and steering wheel don’t exactly mean the same thing. A wheel base is the chunky block that the steering wheel attaches to, which receives your steering input and also provides feedback to the steering wheel as if you’re driving a real car.
Basic: No Force Feedback
These steering wheel bases are the most basic and offer very little of the motorsport experience. They are the cheapest wheel bases available, which is evident in their construction and feel. We do not recommend these and advise purchasing one with at least force feedback.
Mid-level: Force Feedback (Belt-Driven)
These are the basic starter steering wheel bases, which usually come as a complete package with steering wheel and pedals. While the force feedback is nice for simulating traction and road feedback, it is ultimately quite weak and not very communicative. However, these wheels are affordable and provide a great way to dip your toes in sim racing.
- Logitech G29: Affordable option for Playstation and PC, comes with steering wheel and pedals.
- Logitech G920: Affordable option for Xbox and PC, comes with steering wheel and pedals.
Advanced: Direct Drive (DD)
For those seeking a more realistic experience, direct drive wheels are the best option. These wheels, made of premium materials, provide a much more immersive experience compared to force feedback wheels. Direct drive wheels come in different levels with varying degrees of immersion. The more powerful the wheel, the more realistic the feedback, but also the higher the cost.
Direct drive units typically consist only of the wheel base, without a built-in wheel. This allows for greater customization, as you can choose a steering wheel that suits your preferences (e.g., F1 wheel, rally wheel, GT4 wheel, etc.). Steering wheels can be easily swapped out, providing multiple options for different driving experiences.
- Moza: Great value, A+ performance
- R5 (5nm): Moza’s basic direct drive unit (PC-only).
- R9 (9nm): Our pick for a budget option and a substantial upgrade over the R5 (PC-only).
- R12 (12nm): If you have the money to spend, we believe the R12 is the sweet spot in the Moza lineup as a wheel base that you won’t need to upgrade for a long time, if ever (PC-only).
- R21 (21nm): Top-of-the-line wheel base with maximum power and finesse for ultimate immersion (PC-only).
- ES Steering Wheel + ES Formula Mod: Bang-for-the-buck steering wheel and with the formula mod you can easily switch between a round steering wheel and a F1-style wheel.
- GS GT Steering Wheel: Top-of-the-line steering wheel. You honestly don’t need unless you’re trying to channel Max Verstappen. We like this better than the more expensive FSR Formula wheel.
- Fanatec: Well-known brand, solid reputation
Wheel Stand and Sim Rig
After selecting your wheel, you will need to find a place to mount it.
The simplest setup is to use your existing furniture. However, repeatedly mounting your steering wheel to your desk can be tiresome and may damage the desk. Therefore, we recommend getting a wheel stand if you don't have enough space on your desk.
These are affordable options that allow you to mount your wheel base, and sometimes pedals as well, to an independent stand in front of your screen. It is important to have a chair that does not spin and can be immobilized in some way (such as using sticky pads or placing it on a large carpet), because you don’t want to move around when pressing hard on the pedals. The advantage of wheel stands is that they can be easily stored away when not in use.
- GT Omega Wheel Stand: Adjustable wheel stand with support for wheel bases, pedals, and shifters. Works well with Logitech wheel bases.
- Next Level Racing Wheel Stand 2.0: Can be upgraded to the full cockpit in the future.
Sim Rig Cockpit
A sim rig cockpit offers complete customization of the setup and ergonomics of your rig. It can be tailored to your specific needs, including pedal positioning, monitors, and seat. While it is the most expensive option, ranging from a few hundred dollars to over a thousand, it provides the ultimate racing experience. A sim rig cockpit is highly recommended for high-powered DD wheel bases.
- OpenWheeler Cockpit: Cockpit with racing-style seat that offers customizability for adding different components. Has a low Formula style seating position.
- Next Level Racing F-GT Cockpit: Foldable cockpit with different seating positions. The seat isn’t a racing-style seat, but works for the seating position.
- GT Omega Prime Cockpit: Full aluminum style cockpit that offers full adjustability and customization. Expensive, but offers the full customization needed to build the rig you want.
Pedals are available in various styles and price ranges, with higher-priced pedals offering better responsiveness. It is important to ensure that your pedals are compatible with your platform and rig.
We recommend opting for load cell pedals, which calculate brake pressure based on the force applied to the pedal. Cheaper pedals rely on the distance the pedal is pressed, which is much less realistic.
- Moza SR-P: Affordable load cell pedals. Has only two pedals, but you can buy a clutch pedal separately.
- Moza CRP: High-quality load cell pedals with adjustable pedal travel and resistance. Has three pedals.
- Fanatec Clubsport: Great load cell pedals offered in both standard and inverted (upside-down) to match your car setup.
- If you picked a Logitech G920 or G29, they come included with pedals.
Now that you know the fundamentals of a sim rig, all that's left is to build it and start racing! As you improve, you can always upgrade your rig to match your skills or enhance immersion, such as adding motion and tactile feedback.
- Do I need a shifter?
- How competitive is sim racing?
- What about VR?
A shifter is not necessary to get started. Some steering wheels have paddle shifters for shifting, but a shifter does improve the immersion if driving a manual car. If you do opt for a shifter, don’t forget to get pedals with a clutch!
There are a variety of competitive levels that cater to the experience of the driver. For instance, iRacing utilizes a ranking system to determine the suitable races for a driver. This promotes competition by ensuring that drivers of similar skill levels compete against each other. Additionally, it reduces the risk of inexperienced drivers colliding with experienced ones and adversely affecting the overall experience. This concept closely resembles the use of classes in real-life motorsports.
VR (Virtual Reality) is a popular choice for those seeking a higher level of immersion compared to wide screens. With VR, you can move your head to look through side windows and check your mirrors, creating a more realistic driving experience.
However, it's important to note that VR requires more processing power, so you may need to upgrade your PC to ensure smooth performance. We recommend the Quest Pro VR headset for its high-quality lenses and features, such as light blocking.